Healthcare has experienced massive disruption due to the global pandemic. In 2019, just before the shutdowns began, Healthcare was getting comfortable with Contact Centers. Non-clinical operations such as Appointment Scheduling and Billing were centralized into Contact Centers, widely known as ACCESS Centers. All this occurred while hospital systems continued to consolidate facilities and providers.
The fact that so many organizations were able to put together the technology and tools to assemble a remote workforce within days shows the amazing capabilities and determination of all involved.
Then in early March of 2020, the entire country shut down and many industries were forced to find a way to keep their Contact Centers up and running. Healthcare was in a very demanding position. Appointments had to be cancelled, questions about illness had to be answered, emergencies had to be dealt with, vaccine information had to be provided … the list had no end.
In many cases, Healthcare was caught with its figurative “pants down” when it came to deploying a remote workforce. Most Healthcare ACCESS Centers had little if any remote workforce experience or plans. In fact, many clients told us prior to 2019, “work from home will never happen here.” The only remote work options were basically for bare bones business continuity. The fact that so many organizations were able to put together the technology and tools to assemble a remote workforce within days shows the amazing capabilities and determination of all involved.
Healthcare systems suffered massive financial losses due to pandemic disruption. Fortunately, the period of chaos is now behind us and it looks like 2023 is the year of Healthcare stabilization. The objective being to create a more scalable, sustainable, operational infrastructure to support growth and efficiency; be it remote, premise, or hybrid.
When designed and implemented properly, centralized Healthcare operations contribute to closing the financial loss gap, improving the Patient Experience, and gaining market share. I have been in ongoing conversations with Healthcare ACCESS leaders and would like to share some noteworthy trends.
Fortunately, the period of chaos is now behind us and it looks like 2023 is the year of Healthcare stabilization.
Visibility and Status
ACCESS Centers currently enjoy a new level of visibility and offer a significantly increased value proposition. Their contribution to handling pandemic-related demand has given executives a new way to “see” these Contact Centers. ACCESS Centers, both remote and premise-based, have demonstrated their capabilities by responding to new and varied demand as the pandemic worked through the difficult stages of returning to more “normal” operations.
In dealing effectively with shutdowns, vaccines, and gaps in care, the reputation of ACCESS Centers has advanced to strategic asset status. However, this status has a shelf life and leaders must use this visibility wisely. They must continue making intelligent cases to senior management to secure their investment in the centralization of pre/post clinical activities and deliver the desired Patient Experience.
The growth of Healthcare systems is ongoing in markets across the nation. As systems grow, demands on ACCESS Centers increase simultaneously. Leaders must keep a keen eye on scalability in order to grow effectively and efficiently. Workforce Management (WFM) is featured front and center in managing growth; after all, WFM is responsible for forecasting and planning all aspects of growth. WFM planners must employ processes and procedures that engage cross-functional partners to assure that all elements of growth are managed properly. This is the essence of scalability.
WFM must work closely with the enterprise to plan for centralization of services into the ACCESS Center. The planning calendar ought to be at least 18 months out and growth forecasts accurate enough to predict needs for required skills and resources. These include hiring (consider all positions), training, management, IT/IS/Telecom, and premise-based space if required. WFM planning analysts MUST be integrated into the strategic plan in order to assure ACCESS Center’s readiness keeps pace with growth.
Digital ACCESS - portals, web sites, text, chat, bots, Interactive Voice Response (IVR), telemedicine, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) - is expanding and the landscape now includes new channels to connect to services and care.
ACCESS Centers can play a crucial role in identifying digital access obstacles by having analysts pay close attention to why patients must use voice calls to solve problems or access services. Obstacles may be due to technology constraints or processes/procedures that introduce transfers and handoffs, making digital access nearly impossible to accomplish. Stabilization must include keeping an eye toward pushing high frequency, low complexity contacts to self-service. This yields solid data to support necessary investment in technology that will support increased automation.
Count the clicks to completion and the number of applications required to fulfill interactions and transactions. Keep in mind that some of the most expensive software systems have user interfaces that do not serve Contact Centers well. They may be so poorly designed as to yield hundreds of clicks to complete a transaction. This literally squanders the valuable time of the frontline agent!
These processes are often cumbersome, error prone, and time consuming; they create a built-in inefficiency that no amount of agent training can overcome. Business analysts must be capable of building process maps and working with leaders to recommend “streamlining” opportunities. Leaders must become capable of understanding the technologies, the processes, and the organizational requirements for success. They must use newfound visibility to make a case for requisite investment in a proper organizational model and in tools/technologies that over the long term reduce both errors, handle time and increase job and patient satisfaction.
Turnover in Contact Centers has long been a concern. Today, it is more of a crisis. The cost of recruiting, onboarding, training, and leaving funded positions vacant mounts with each passing day that a position remains open. Glassdoor and Indeed estimate that replacing agents costs anywhere from five to fifteen thousand dollars per agent. These days, it seems to take longer and longer to fill jobs. The result is strained budgets, stressed managers, frustrated frontline staff, and upset and irritated patients, making interactions longer and less pleasant.
We find that staff retention and development exist in environments described by agents as a “good place to work.” From the agent perspective, the requirements are simple. Provide the front line with what is needed to do the job successfully: training, coaching, and accurate, up-to-date and easy-to-access job aids with actionable information. Assure that job duties are clear and that scheduling and PTO are considered fair. STOP chasing productivity metrics! Productivity is the outcome of hiring, training, and managing well, all critical to a “good place to work” and scalability.
Make being on the phone a good job too.
Build a career path into the agent position. Reward taking on new programs and/or providers with advancement within the ranks. ACCESS Centers schedule for providers with varied complexities. For example, agents may start out being skilled for Primary Care. But as proficiency improves, they can move up a level by mastering scheduling for more complex “specialty” providers such as Cardiology, Neurology, etc.
Be cautious not to promote advancing agents by promises of “getting them off the phone.” The consequences are disastrous. The fact is that there are far fewer management positions than agent positions. Make being on the phone a good job too.
Do not delay … good will and visibility have a “shelf life!”
These trends are not all-inclusive by any means. But they do provide a framework to assess your organization’s level of readiness to support growth. Healthcare is in a near constant state of change. Stabilization contributes to the elimination of chaos, is a foundational element to scalability, and is critical to growth management.
This new year offers excitement to Healthcare ACCESS Centers and their leaders. Take advantage of the Contact Center’s improved visibility to secure what is necessary to succeed over the long term. Do not delay … good will and visibility have a “shelf life!”